Egypt Urges Cooperation on Ethiopia’s Nile River Hydropower Dam

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said his government opposes Ethiopia’s construction of a dam on the Nile River and called for cooperation on the project to ensure Egypt’s interests are protected.

Studies conducted so far by a committee made up of neutral experts and officials from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have failed to show whether the dam will affect Egypt’s share of the Nile, Qandil said in remarks broadcast on state television today in the capital, Cairo. The project, known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, will generate 6,000 megawatts once built and will be Africa’s largest hydropower plant.

“Egypt opposes dam construction in light of the information available,” Qandil said. “Egypt has legal, diplomatic and technical alternatives to deal with the situation if the dam proves harmful to the country and Ethiopia insists on building it.”

Ethiopia, source of the largest of the Nile’s two tributaries, may start filling the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River by 2015. Construction of the 80 billion-birr ($4.3 billion) dam began in 2011 and is scheduled for completion in 2017. Egypt, which relies on the Nile for almost all of its water, has historically opposed upstream projects on the world’s longest river.

At a meeting hosted by President Mohamed Mursi last week, Egyptian politicians including Younis Makhyoun, head of the ultraconservative Islamist Al-Nour party, suggested the project should be sabotaged.

Rebel Assault

“Egypt can coordinate with rebels in Ethiopia and use them as a bargaining chip with the Ethiopian government” Makhyoun said. “If this fails, then there is no choice but to use intelligence to destroy the dam.”

Mursi has been criticized by opposition politicians including Abu el-Ghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, for his handling of the issue.

“Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood group are running the Ethiopian dam issue with a total recklessness and a lack of efficiency, information, studies or clear plans,” el-Ghar said today at a press briefing transmitted by ON TV, an Egyptian satellite broadcaster. There is also a “big delay in taking measures to preserve Egypt’s historical rights,” he said.

Qandil reiterated Mursi’s previous statement that Egypt will defend its rights to Nile waters.

“Water is a matter of life and death for Egypt and we won’t give up a drop of Nile water,” Qandil said. “I’d like to say to our brothers in Ethiopia, let’s seize the opportunity and foster cooperation and enhance relations between both countries, based on common interests.”

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